Success of ‘The Wiz Live!’ Paves the Path for Future Black Musicals
Propelled by stellar reviews, a glut of musical talent and a star-creating lead performance by Shanice Williams, The Wiz Live! eased on down the yellow brick road of success Thursday night, scoring a 3.4/11 ratings share in the 18-49 demographic and 11.50 million overall viewers. The show was also a social media sensation, bringing in over 1.6 million tweets during the telecast. According to the analytics firm, Brandwatch, 85 percent of the tweets were positive, something almost unheard of on Twitter. The Wiz Live! helps redeems the live musical concept on network television and helped saved NBC face after their last two musical outings, Peter Pan and The Sound of Music, were not as well-received.
The Wiz Live! showed the commercial fertility and critical viability of Black musicals on broadcast television. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, the show’s producers, Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, talked about how important diversity is when it comes to these broadcasts.
“Diversity is something Craig and I have always believed in, starting with Cinderella that we did with Whitney Houston and Brandy and a multicultural cast at the time,” Meron said. “And that has followed through in our work up until The Wiz. There was always an audience for programming with diverse characters and it took so much time for everybody to catch to it that it now seems to be a trend when it shouldn’t be a trend. It should be a reflection of the world we live in The Wiz is a perfect example of that.”
As Zadan and Meron point out, there has and will always be an audience for seeing Black musicals. The Wiz Live! presented the show in a Broadway fashion that other people would not have seen otherwise. When it comes to ratings success, networks take on a copycat approach, and it’s very possible that next year others will follow suit. Thankfully, there’s a wealth of material begging to be adapted.
One musical with more contemporary potential is Carmen Jones, a historically significant Black musical with lots of prestige. Its story, an army man being seduced and manipulated by the titular character, is a perfect fit for contemporary audiences.
Another option is The Color Purple, a beloved and well-known property with incredible dramatic potential. Re-imaged as a musical in 2005, it was nominated for 11 Tony Awards and a revival is opening on Broadway on December 10, starring Jennifer Hudson. A successful revival makes it an ideal candidate for the live event treatment.
But perhaps the most noteworthy Black musical begging for the live musical treatment is Dreamgirls. As far as Black musicals go, Dreamgirls is the Holy Grail. If The Wiz Live! had a cup running over with talent, it would flood for Dreamgirls.
All in all, The Wiz Live! is a positive step toward seeing more live musicals. Here’s hoping the networks take note and make good on its success.